Can we end homelessness?

What do we mean when we say we can end homelessness? Is it even possible? This claim is often disputed by those who say some level of homelessness has always been with us. Yet when making this assertion, it does not mean that there will never be people in crisis who need emergency/temporary housing. There will continue to be people who must leave home because of family conflict and violence, eviction or other emergencies, as well as those who simply face challenges in making the transition to independent living. Thus there will always be a need for some form of emergency services.

Ending homelessness means something different – it means eliminating a broad social problem that traps people in an ongoing state of homelessness. The Canadian Definition of Homelessness argues the

problem of homelessness and housing exclusion refers to the failure of society to ensure that adequate systems, funding and support are in place so that all people, even in crisis situations, have access to housing. The goal of ending homelessness is to ensure housing stability, which means people have a fixed address and housing that is appropriate (affordable, safe, adequately maintained, accessible and suitable in size), and includes required services as needed (supportive), in addition to income and supports”.

Ending homelessness means doing things differently, and not simply managing the problem through emergency services and supports such as shelters and soup kitchens. When people come to depend on emergency services without access to permanent housing and necessary supports, this leads to declining health and well-being, and most certainly an uncertain future. An alternative is to look at approaches that emphasize prevention and/or interventions that lead to appropriate housing options with supports. Ending homelessness means that no one should be in this emergency situation for any longer than a few weeks.

See the Ten Year Plans section for examples on strategic planning practice to end homelessness in Canada.

See Systems Responses to understand how thinking about different ways of delivering services and partnerships can contribute to ending homelessness.